Do we in the UK require new aircraft carriers for our future defence needs? I confess I am totally unable to express an educated view on this topic or whether the current design is adequate should we indeed have a need for such maritime military platforms. I understand however that the Ministry of Defence is carrying out a strategic review designed to evaluate such matters - this is as it should be. Into the mix is probably being fed the country's current economic situation and whether the financial strains we are experiencing permit us the 'luxury' of these new ships. Of course defence is not a 'luxury' at all and if it is decided that this equipment is necessary, perhaps even vital to the country's security, then considerable sacrifices would certainly be necessary to ensure we can procure them.
However, what I am absolutely clear about is that the construction of aircraft carriers or any other military equipment is not primarily about prviding jobs in one part of the country or another. If we need it for our own national requirements, then that is of course a very different matter. It may be too that some military equipment produced in this country is valuable for export to other countries willing to pay a fair market price for it, over and above what we may need for our own requirements. We as a country do purchase some equipment from overseas or produce it in joint-venture consortia with other countries for our mutual benefit. Apart from these arragements it may for longer-term strategic security be considered prudent to ensure that certain manufacturing and design skills remain available within this country.
So much for the general principles as I see them.
Now we come to the vexed subject of the two aircraft carriers ordered a few years back, it so happens under the previous government, but that seems to me to be irrelevant if what we are genuinely talking about is strategic defence matters rather than 'pork barrel' projects put in place in certain parts of the country more for partisan politicial reasons than to contribute fundamentally to the fulfilment of our future defence needs. It is in this light that I believe the current cross-party political 'alliance' amongst political parties in Scotland needs to be seen, not just as the job-creating mechanism that seems to be the focus of much of the current political debate in Scotland.
If it is decided that these aircraft carriers really are required and that the current design does meet our defence [or 'power projection'] requirements, then it is certainly legitimate for Scottish shipyards to tender for the work, perhaps in collaboration with manufacturing facilities elsewhere in the country if all are capable of doing the work in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
There is the slight awkwardness of the position of the SNP, though, as it might affect how such public contracts might be spread around the country in the future. Whilst Scotland remains an integral part of the UK it seems to me it should be a full participant in all aspects of national defence - and that means that the SNP objections to the agreed national policy on Trident are completely unacceptable. Post-separation (aka 'independence') matters become considerably different; Scotland would then be responsible for designing and fulfilling its own defence requirements according to what its government might see as its needs - this might involve forbidding the presence of nuclear weapons, for example, here, unless there was some special arrangment with the remaining parts of what was formerly the UK, principally England. Such arrangements would work both ways of course - the rump of the UK (i.e. England) would be free to choose its own path for its defence independent of any consideration of what Scotland might or might not want and that would of course (I imagine) include the allocation of future English defence contracts. Would a future independent England (i.e. the main part of a rump-UK minus Scotland) seriously consider, other things being equal, awarding contracts for vital defence equipment to a foreign country such as Scotland; it might be possible in the short-term given the close integration of the two countries in the past several centuries, but I think it inevitable that over time England would quite naturally prefer to keep contracts vital to its own future security within its own borders so far as possible.
Within the wider British military, Scottish regiments, naval and air bases are a significant component - quite apart from their longstanding contribution to the national defence all of them have provided an important source of employment from Scotland for many generations. Undoubtedly an 'independent' Scotland would continue to require some kind of military capability for defence purposes for its own defence far into the future, quite possibly within the context of some multi-national defence grouping such as NATO or with its then former partners within the former UK, but those partners would inevitably first consider their specific requirements, which might not necessarily include the allocation of a portion of their defence contracts to a foreign country such as Scotland. None of this need necessarily be 'bad', far less 'catastrophic' for Scotland or its defence-manufacturing workforce, but it is certainly not a matter that could be taken for granted - specifically that they would continue to be granted equal access to the bidding for future defence contracts from England. Assuming that a future 'independent' Scotland did gain control over a significant part of the present UK North Sea energy resouces, for example, these would still need to be defended and protected against potential enemies in a world increasingly desperate for scarce energy resouces; I hope those who might lead a future 'independent' Scotland have thought about these matters and not simply assumed that no-one would challenge our sovereignty over such resources.